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By Roz Rogoff

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About this blog: In January 2002 I started writing my own online "newspaper" titled "The San Ramon Observer." I reported on City Council meetings and other happenings in San Ramon. I tried to be objective in my coverage of meetings and events, and...  (More)

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Redeveloping the RDA

Uploaded: Jul 21, 2011
Redevelopment Agencies (RDA) are under fire from Governor Brown. Cities are regrouping to reenergize their Redevelopment Agencies and keep them and the money they bring in from being taken away by the State.

What is a Redevelopment Agency and what does it do? Well it redevelops blighted parts of town. It rezones and provides funding to change neighborhoods deemed blighted by a city by replacing unsightly buildings with nice new ones.

There's a misconception that RDA money is funny money and Cities are getting into debt over it. The exact opposite is true. RDA money is the one sure thing that Cities want, because it generates income through what is called the "tax increment."

Let's say an older section of a city has the zoning changed from service-commercial to Mixed Use. One of the properties there is used as a carwash. The owner of the property is offered RDA funds to improve his property. He tears down the carwash and builds a three story building with retail stores on the bottom, offices on the second floor, and apartments on the top floor.

This property is now worth three times what it was worth as a carwash. So it is reassessed and the difference between the old property tax and the new property tax goes to the City's RDA. Bingo, big windfall.

The City can then use that money to redevelop other "blighted" parts of the City. Not only that, the City is now getting sales taxes from the retail, business license fees from the offices, and can add the apartments to their ABAG requirement for affordable, workforce housing. More bingo!

This scenario is very similar to what almost happened to Beta Court six years ago. The area was rezoned but the Service Commercial businesses were grandfathered in. Most of the auto repair shops on Beta Court are in rented buildings. Renters are often the losers in RDA. If the owner of a property decides there's more money in redeveloping his property than collecting rent, he can let the leases laps and tear down the buildings and do what the carwash owner did in my example above.

I was against rezoning Beta Court, or forcing out the auto repair shops, or even calling it blighted. In a Commentary I wrote on November 1, 2005, I questioned San Ramon's definition of "blight." Here's an excerpt of that Commentary from my original San Ramon Observer website.

"I consider a blighted area one with high crime and unemployment, graffiti, unmaintained, unoccupied, and deteriorated buildings. A blighted area is a sad, bad place. The South Bronx in the 1960's exemplified urban blight. Parts of Oakland are blighted. Are parts of San Ramon anything like this? I think not.

According to the Fourth Amendment to the Redevelopment Plan, the area between Crow Canyon Road and Purdue is blighted because:

1. Buildings are small and 30 years old or older.
2. Lots are small and have multiple owners
3. Properties are vacant or underutilized.
4. Property values are stagnant and lease rates are low
5. The area lacks redevelopment or improvements
6. San Ramon's taxable sales are low (only 2% annual increases from 1999 to 2003)
8. Lack of parking and drainage, street deterioration

Except for six properties that are vacant, and two, which were torn down due to long-term vacancy, I can't define any of these conditions as blight. What is described here is an area that is old fashioned, out of date, passé, but not blighted.

The City would like newer, flasher, higher ticket, more expensive, larger buildings, and higher sales tax revenues than the Focus Area now provides. Notice that sales tax revenues didn't go down. They just didn't go up as much as neighboring cities. Is this a good enough reason to tear down the businesses on the northwest side of town? Forest Home Farms could fit under this definition of blight. It's more than 50 years old, and hasn't been redeveloped in years. Must everything in San Ramon be newer, bigger, and more expensive?"

The Housing Overlay zoning that the City Council wanted to put on Beta Court in 2005 was not approved by the Planning Commission and didn't happen. Most of the service commercial businesses that were there then are still there now.

There was no reason to change Beta Court then or now. The businesses there are useful to residents and the street isn't in a highly visible part of the City. It's also right behind Morgan's Masonry, which is a stupid place to put housing.

I'm not against rezoning the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan mixed use. That's a sensible place to put housing and improve the look and uses of the properties there. So it isn't a matter of opposing all Redevelopment if I consider it to be useful redevelopment, but the NCRSP doesn't require RDA funds. Property owners can improve their properties or sell them to a developer without needing RDA support.

After I published my Commentary on Beta Court, I received an email from Mary Lou Oliver. She brought up the specter of the old Alcosta Mall, which was blighted and needed redevelopment. I've heard the stories about it, but that was before I moved to San Ramon.

That area was redeveloped and stayed nice as long as the supermarket building stayed occupied. Once again the shopping center has lost its anchor store. Several residents have tried to get a Trader Joes to move in where the Le Asia Market used to be, but so far Trader Joe isn't interested.

Someone suggested putting housing there, and that seems like a good idea right now. Even in the economic downturn, housing is in demand in San Ramon. It could be built like the development at the corner of Alcosta Blvd and San Ramon Valley Road in Dublin, where a Townhouse development was put into a portion of a strip mall. I know that spot because I frequent the Mountain Mike's Pizza there.

Housing could be put where the old Ralphs/Albertson's market and the video store were, but the other side of the parking lot with the CVS pharmacy, Starbucks, and restaurants could remain. Perhaps a smaller, ethnic market could fill the gap for groceries in that location.

I believe Kroger's, which is the parent company of Albertsons and Lucky's, owns that store property. Maybe they would be ready to get rid of it by now.

Comments

Posted by Patricia, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jul 22, 2011 at 8:16 am

I agree with the concept of redevelopment agencies and perhaps San Ramon has always used its funds wisely, to replace blighted areas. But isn't it true that RDAs often misuse the funds as a way to get revenue through the tax increments you speak of? In these times of lack of funding by the state, aren't some cities abusing the system by "redeveloping" areas that aren't blighted to add to their general fund? I read that Palm Desert used $16.7 million in redevelopment funds to renovate a highly rated golf course. That seems like abuse of the purpose of RDA, which leads to them coming under fire by Governor Brown.


Posted by Member, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jul 22, 2011 at 9:08 am

I understand that the city used RDA money to purchase the building that now houses the City Planning Offices and San Ramon Police Department near the corner of Bollinger Canyon Road and Crow Canyon Road. How did that qualify for RDA funding? It is surely not an area that I would consider "blighted" and there will be no new tax revenue coming from the city occupying the building. The city says it will only use the building for five years and then sell it as it is hoped that the new "city center" on Camino Ramon and Bollinger Canyon Rd. will be built by then. Not likely! I may have seen the Alcosta Mall makeover, but it will not be in my lifetime that we will see a new city center! Why can't they use RDA funds to build that?


Posted by Harry S., a resident of San Ramon,
on Jul 22, 2011 at 9:22 am

Roz- RDA funds were used to upgrade the Alcosta Senior Center and help construct the Dougherty Valley Community center. Also, redevelopment allows for a property owner to maintain their existing use and simply upgrade or expand their business site; not just tear down and put three stories of housing over retail. I'm with you on the Alcosta site, love to see a Trader Joe's in there.


Posted by member, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jul 22, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Roz, Must be nice for the city to have some money. My neighborhood sees very little of our money come to us in services! Our streets are old, and potholed but the city "ran out of repaving money" before they got to us. We get "repairs" that make the streets worse with the promises that "soon" the streets will be redone. Talk about blight, look at the streets with grass, weeds, and cracks.


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Jul 22, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Patricia & Member,

That was my point about Beta Court. The City calls what it wants to replace "blighted," whether it is or not. That way they can use the RDA money to put something they like better there. Sometimes this is a good thing, like replacing the old bank building on Alcosta with senior housing. Other times it just seems to be a way to make the city more upscale and bring in additional revenues. Both of those motives are good, but not when existing businesses are forced out because they don't have a nice enough image.

Roz


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Jul 22, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Harry,

I'm not sure if Marc Fontes was exaggerating but he said at one meeting (maybe one of yours) that he calls Trader Joe's every week to talk them into moving here. I don't know why they haven't. I think that would be a great location for them too.

Roz


Posted by Longtime Resident, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jul 22, 2011 at 8:25 pm

Member hit the nail on the head. Do we really need a big police station staffed by many, overtime abuse and the resultant revelations that some of our cops make over $200K per year, benefits to be paid by us. It is a laugh that a "police commission" inspected our San Ramon force and gave them an award, but said "they needed additional management oversight"...and their organizational chart needed more managers...fellow citizens, this is THE FOX GUARDING THE HENHOUSE...the recent news about our corrupt drug dealing cops is NO REASON to build a new costly empire. Let's just hire folks that want to do the right thing. Okay, and lastly, my rant, I have never got a ticket in my life, but who says it will cost $486.00 and do we have cameras at the intersections along Crow Canyon Road? Only Mary Lou has responded....SR PD..what is up?


Posted by mloliver, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jul 23, 2011 at 9:14 am

I certainly can't disagree that there is pension abuse, and that being able to collect a pension at 50 then go right out and get another job is a misuse of public funds. One year while served on the Grand Jury we wrote a report on those abuses by public safety management retirees.

That being said, San Ramon's new police department is understaffed by statewide standards but they do an excellent job anyway. It's unfortunate that one bad apple in the PD shed a bad light on the department. I know his double life and alleged illegal activities was an embarrassment to everyone.

Anyone who had reason to be in the San Ramon PD on Camino Ramon couldn't help but notice the staff was tripping over each other in an extremely cramped space. There have been talks of finding another location for the PD since before I left the council in 1995. The opportunity to move to the Bollinger Canyon facility along with making the planning and permit process more convenient for the public seemed like a good solution to me from the beginning. Perhaps I'm prejudiced because it is near my neighborhood, but I sure don't mind having a law enforcement presence nearby at all.

MLO


Posted by Member, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jul 23, 2011 at 9:50 am

Dear Longtime Resident,
I'm not sure if you have ever seen the old police station, but I have. It was small, outdated and forced the police department to rent space in two different office buildings. Hardly an ideal way to manage the force. The police station has been in the same spot for over 20 years and while the city grew by leaps and bounds during that time the station did not.

I also took a look at the org chart and made my own comparison to other area police stations such as Pleasanton, Livermore and Walnut Creek. Prior to the reorg, the San Ramon police had less than half the management of the other departments. It seems to me that having police management is a good thing!

As far as the overtime issue goes, I have worked in an organization that pays overtime. It has been my experience that there are some people that love to work overtime and some that hate it. To me its not a question of who worked the overtime and how much they made at the end of the year. (Is forcing someone else to work overtime that doesn't want to better than allowing the person who does want to just so it will look better on paper really a better way of doing it?) Its more a question of was the overtime justified in the first place? If yes, then I say let the people who want to work overtime work it.

Finally I would like to address the comments about building a costly empire and corrupt cops. First, if you research you will find that San Ramon has one of the lowest costs per capita for police services. If you compare to neighboring cities like Walnut Creek and Pleasanton, it is significantly lower. You will also notice that the force has way less officers per 1000 than the previously mentioned forces. Hardly an "empire". I personally believe most cops are honest, hardworking folks. There are bad apples in every bunch. I'm just glad they were able to weed them out.


Posted by Longtime Resident, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jul 23, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Member...I respectfully disagree...you seem to be an insider that think we can just keep funding the Police and Fireman giveaways...are you supping at the trough? There is not a gravy train comp and retirement plan available anywhere in the private sector in the Tri Valley similar to what we are funding and you know it. We are now hip to the rip off...and the Fire District Board conflict of interest as well...we have Fire District Board members voting on retirement benefits while they have family members serving as firemen. You guys are sooooo gullible! It is our money...let the brave people of Bell give us a lesson in taking back our town financially. Herb is gone, that is too late, but we are not illiterate sheep and have had enough.


Posted by kevin, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jul 24, 2011 at 7:32 pm

I think what bothers me most about the North Camino Ramon Plan is that it is the City that has determined what they want and without any request of the businesses or population, they rezone 300 aches irrespective of the impact to individual businesses or the services they provide to the residents of San Ramon.

It should be the businesses or residents that propose what they want planned for San Ramon, not the City planners or council. We elected the council to represent us as our voice. As I have asked the City Planning commission before: "Who is asking for this plan?" The only answer I received was from Phil Wong, who said at the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan unveiling, "This is my plan". This is not right.

I have come to the conclusion, after almost a year of listening and attending City meetings, that the City far more impacts my life than any other facet of government. I am looking forward to seeing how other residents will respond to the past record of the City in the next election.


Posted by Member, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jul 25, 2011 at 9:32 am

Dear Longtime Resident,
I didn't address the pension issues you have alluded to in your last post. I happen agree with you that significant pension reform needs to take place. However, I don't see how that argument relates to the organization itself. If the police commission made recommendations, then I believe it was probably because they are experienced in the field and know what the proper staffing should be in a police department.

Would you still feel the same way if there were no pension abuse or bloated benefits? What is the basis for your decision if it remains the same? Do you have expertise that supports your position? Fix the benefit issues and the problem should be fixed correct? Or are you saying that the "empire" is still an issue?



Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Jul 25, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Longtime Resident,

The building bought and remodeled for the Police Department, with added room for the Planning Department, was bought and paid for out of RDA funds. Not a nickel of it came from your taxes. There's a misconception of how much of our Property Taxes go to City Governments. Your taxes are set at the County level by the Assessor. If you are as longtime a resident as you say, you are probably under Proposition 13 and pay taxes based on your old assessed value.

The City gets back a percentage of taxes from the State and County to run all of its departments. They pay staff out of the amount of revenue they receive, and no tax payer is billed more for paying staff higher salaries not even the residents of Bell. Bell received most of its taxes from industries there and not residents. Much of San Ramon's income comes from businesses in Bishop Ranch, so they are paying for our excellent and well-run government that you benefit from here.

You are the one who is gullible and easily manipulated by politically motivated individuals. You rant against the Police, Fire Department, and City Staff, but I'll bet you have never looked at your water bill.

East Bay Municipal Services District and Dublin San Ramon Services District bill directly for what they pay their Management. That's why water rates keep going up. They can cover their expenses by charging you more. So direct your ire where your money really goes and not against our Police station that was paid for with RDA money or our Police Officers who are paid for out of the limited amount of money allotted by the State and County to San Ramon.

Roz


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Jul 25, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Correction: It's East Bay Municipal Utilities District, also known as East Bay MUD.

East Bay MUD provides water to the original portions of San Ramon. The Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD) provides water to Dougherty Valley and sewer service to south San Ramon.

The Central Contra Costa Sanitary District, also known as Central San, provides sewer services to Dougherty Valley and most of San Ramon north of Cal High. They also bill directly to cover their expenses and pay high pensions too.

It's really a pain in the neck that we cannot correct a blog entry once it is posted!

Roz


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